Bobo-Dioulasso — In 2000, farmers in Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton grower, were desperate. Their cotton fetched top prices because its high-quality fibre lent a luxurious sheen to clothing and bed sheets. But pests — bollworms — were threatening the crop. Even when you dropped the bollworm larvae into a bucket of poison, farmers said, they kept swimming. US seeds and pesticide company Monsanto proposed an answer: a genetically modified (GM) strain of cotton called Bollgard II, which it had already introduced in America and was marketing worldwide. GM was established in large-scale farming in SA but not among the smallholders who produce most African cotton. The Burkina farmers agreed to a trial and the country introduced seeds with the gene in 2008. The resulting cotton was pest-free, and the harvest more abundant. By 2015, three-quarters of all Burkina Faso’s production was GM, and it became a showcase for the technology among smallholders in Africa. From 2007 to 2015, delegati...

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